A joint is the junction of two or more bones, held in place with the help of connective tissues and ligaments. There are mainly three types of joints in the human body: fibrous joint, cartilaginous joint and synovial joint. Out of which, synovial joints have fluid between the bones called synovial fluid. This fluid helps in the smooth movement and acts as a cushion against shock. It is a thick, colorless liquid containing hyaluronic acid and is secreted by epithelial tissues that are present in the synovial membrane. The fluid moves into the cavity between the bones in order to lubricate and reduce friction during any physical activity. Some of the synovial joints are present in those body parts which undergo maximum movement. For example: wrist joint, thumb joint, hip joint, knee joint, etc.
Sometimes, the joint swells and becomes painful due to an injury or infection in that particular area. The natural reaction of the body against a traumatic injury or an infection is to produce excessive fluid in the joint in order to protect it. The presence of excessive fluid in the joints is termed as joint effusion. The colloquial term for this condition is 'water in the joints'.
Diagnosis and Treatment
There is no definitive approach towards treatment of joint effusion. The course of action that a medical practitioner may take for the treatment depends upon the diagnosis of the condition.
First, you may need to take an X-ray to determine the cause of the effusion. Your doctor may also suggest an ultrasound test to ascertain the underlying cause. Another reason for doing an ultrasound is to aid in the procedure of joint aspiration which is done to drain out the excess fluid.
As mentioned above, it is a procedure where the doctor drains out fluid from the joint in order to relieve pressure resulting from excess fluid inside the joint cavity. It is also called arthrocentesis. The doctor may employ the same procedure to analyze the fluid for bacterial growth or blood if he suspects infection in the joint.
It is a procedure which is carried out to detect the extent of damage to the joint. In this, a device called arthroscope is inserted into the joint through a small incision in order to evaluate conditions like torn or damaged cartilage etc.
Application of heating pads or ice packs along with these medicines considerably reduce discomfort in the swollen joints. Usually, non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) are used to treat joint effusions that are caused due to injury or osteoarthritis. Steroidal medicines may also be taken to reduce pain and swelling in joints. Though taking these medicines orally is the common practice, anti-inflammatory drugs such as steroids may also be injected into the joint. These injections provide temporary relief from joint pain and swelling. In case of certain types of inflammatory arthritis including rheumatoid arthritis, drugs like DMARDS (disease-modifying antirheumatic drugs) that slow down the progression of this disease and curb joint damage may also be prescribed by the doctor.
Knee joint or ankle effusion treatment may include keeping the affected part at an elevated position. This may prevent further swelling of the joint. You should avoid any stress to the joint during the healing process. Bed rest works well for the swollen joint to recover fast.
Causes and Risk Factors
Joint effusion can be a symptom of several health conditions, including different types of arthritis. Although it commonly occurs in the knee and the hip, other joints are also susceptible to effusion.
It is a degenerative joint disease that occurs due to the mechanical stress on the bones. It is usually a localized disease. Other reasons behind its occurrence can be change in the micro-environment of the cartilage, metabolic defects, congenital problems, etc. Pain is usually the first symptom that the patient experiences. This disease is also characterized by stiffness, tenderness, deformed joints, creaking sounds from the affected joint, or swelling due to fluid retention in the joints.
It is an inflammatory form of arthritis that can hamper the regular functions of an individual due to swollen and painful joints. Usually, hands, feet and knees are affected by this condition. It causes the fluid to accumulate in the joint. The excess fluid is secreted by the inflamed tissues and those tissues which line the joint. Other symptoms of this conditions are: fever, generalized muscle weakness, stiffness in the joint, etc.
In this disease, crystals of uric acid deposit in the joints, and cause inflammation and pain. It is caused due to a defect in the body metabolism in synthesizing uric acid or overproduction of uric acid in the body. The other symptoms associated with this condition are swollen joints with acute pain, warmth and redness. The patient is unable to bear any weight on the affected joints.
Bacterial, viral or fungal infections in the tissues or fluid of a joint may cause effusion. Joint infection is caused when the organism responsible for an earlier infection reaches the joint, through blood. Septic arthritis is another condition that can cause the joints to swell up due to bacterial infection. People who have an open wound or undergone a joint surgery, a history of intravenous drug abuse and those with immune deficiency are more susceptible to this type of arthritis.
Injury to the Joint
Sprains, fractures or trauma to the joint can cause effusion. The parts affected may include tendons, ligaments, cartilage or muscles surrounding a joint. Another condition that can cause joints to swell up is lipohemarthrosis which is a common sports injury. Following a trauma to a joint, fat and blood enter the joint cavity through a damaged cartilage in the joint, leading to swelling.
The symptoms may vary according to the cause of the effusion. Generally, stiffness and pain in the joint is associated with this condition. If the fluid buildup is due to an infection, then the affected joint may appear reddish in color. If the effusion is in the knee, then one knee might look bigger and puffier than the other. Mobility of the patient may also affected due to this condition.
Injuries often cause pain and swelling in the joints which usually subside with proper rest and medicines. However, if the discomfort persists, it is best to see a doctor at the earliest.
Disclaimer: The information provided in this article is solely for educating the reader. It is not intended to be a substitute for advice from a doctor.